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Ante Up? – A #FilthyCasual’s Reflections on The Force Awakens

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Before I get into any depth about my (certain) point of view here, let me first say that I LOVE The Force Awakens. Every moment of it. And as some of you might have previously read in my interview with Mike Cooper, I went in 100% unspoiled. I knew nothing, was ready for anything. And I loved everything.

The feel of the movie was delightfully familiar, in the best possible way. The story didn’t feel as much an echo of Episode IV — as I have so often since seen discussed — as it feels like a rhyme, which is precisely what made it seem so very Star Wars to me. All of the previous Episodes distinctly rhyme with one other, hearkening back to different notes and colors of the same concerns, unfurling a history both doomed and destined to repeat over and over in subtle variations of the lessons.

The grander arc feels sewn together on the same cloth, and not just tacked onto it — as I’d feared it might be, following my views of the former Expanded Universe. And, instead of the fantasy ending of celebration and fireworks with Force ghosts nodding in assent as the final word, the galaxy suddenly feels all the more realistic. We see the real ramifications, the unintended consequences of good intentions and all the mess that’s left at what we arbitrarily entitle “the end”. Rey and company have their work cut out for them, not because they’re just individuals who happen to bump into familiar people and places, but as true, logical extensions of a grander theme that began A Long Time Ago, and that never ends. Read More

She’s Not a Jedi Yet?

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I remember reading with interest the rebirth of the Expanded Universe with the release of the Thrawn trilogy. We were going to find out what happened with our favorite characters. And I was sure that we were going to see the tales of adventure that two young Jedi would have – the adventures of Luke and Leia. Because, of course Leia would be a Jedi. That was basically Yoda’s dying request to Luke – “pass on what you have learned! There is another Skywalker!”

Zahn didn’t go that way. Leia had undergone some nominal training, but the realities of politics in a galaxy far, far away (literal politics – not gender politics but organizing a new galactic government) stood in the way. It actually was a theme of the trilogy – the fact that Leia wasn’t making time to learn, that Luke felt fears about training her. She did learn a bit. Zahn did a great job with that bit of character development. But then, in the rest of the EU, she just stopped learning. For something like twenty odd years. So many of the stories just wouldn’t move on to Leia finally becoming a Jedi.

Then we had The Force Awakens come out. J.J. Abrams has said that part of what drove the creation of the story was answering the question, “who is Luke Skywalker?” Fair enough – interesting entry point. But now things would be fixed, because surely, this time around, Luke would do what Yoda said and train his sister. Except, once again, those in charge of officially telling the story decided that Leia wasn’t going to be a Jedi. She’d be Force-sensitive – we see that in the film – but Leia appears to have purposefully not trained as a Jedi. Her talents thus remain latent, never reaching their full potential. Read More

Homer, Virgil, and That Guy on Twitter

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Speculating is fun. Speculating on story possibilities in worlds as deep as Star Wars and coming up with complicated theories that weave together multiple narrative threads from canonical media that could never be reasonably expected to be explained on screen for a movie-only audience is a blast.

Many of us love knowing that there are people who get paid for doing basically that, and hate, essentially, that we are not those people. So we do it anyway, without an expectation of payment, or for our ideas to actually show up on screen. Or at least we shouldn’t have those expectations.

If you asked me if I write fanfic, I’d answer quickly and swiftly that I don’t. Except when I took a moment to actually think about what that means, I realized that this isn’t entirely true. I don’t write fanfic in the traditional prose sense, but I love writing up bullet points of speculative connecting tissues and frameworks, what-if scenarios, Sandboxes and Structures that would be great fun for others to play around in. Read More

The Symbolism of The Force Awakens

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One of the best aspects of literature is ambiguity; ambiguity that leaves important scenes up for speculation and exploration that causes discussion for years to come. At the end of the novelization of The Force Awakens, the narration tells us “Remembering, Rey reached into her pack and removed [Luke’s] lightsaber. Taking several steps forward, she held it out to him. An offer. A plea. The galaxy’s only hope.” In context, I think the narration makes it seem that Luke is the galaxy’s only hope. But how is he the galaxy’s hope? Does Rey imagine that Luke is going to bring the galaxy together under the Resistance? Does she want Luke to come out of hiding and kill Kylo? I think the direction of the plot subtly moves us into accepting a different ending: that Rey, fully trained by Luke as a Jedi, is the galaxy’s only hope.

What makes me think this? The symbolism in Star Wars. The franchise is not afraid of stretching its visuals to their furthest capacity, leading to some rich storytelling that doesn’t rely solely on the narration to tell every part of the story. But how does The Force Awakens’ symbolism specifically point to Rey as the galaxy’s only hope? It’s too easy to point out Rey’s similarities to Luke, as many have already done. No, the way forward is to look at some of the differences between the two. I think there’s an unexplored area of the movie that we should look at: the symbol of ascent. The symbol of ascent is all over the movie, as the movie starts in the night, in the middle of a desert world and ends on top of a mountainous island in the middle of the day. In many ancient worldviews, “ascension” meant many things: it symbolized a movement from death to life, it symbolized the ritual practitioner’s ascent into heaven, or maturity. Ascension was necessary in many worldviews because the ground was death: to descend was to enter Hades or Sheol, and to stay on the ground was to be tied to the material world rather than the spiritual world. Kosignas, the priest-king of a town in Greece, builds a ladder to Hera to leave the world; the prophet Jonah descends into the sea and into the fish to escape God, comparing it to living in Sheol; the Rig Veda shows the first man who died climbing mountains to show people about life after death; early Gnostics wanted to ascend to heaven to escape the evil material world. Read More

“Who is Luke Skywalker?” or, How I Learned to Stop Caring Who’s Related to Whom in The Force Awakens

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It’s December, and we are officially less than twenty days from the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you’re like me, you’re juggling work, the holidays, the inescapable excitement of the upcoming film, and some kind of re-watch of the first two trilogies (with perhaps some Clone Wars sprinkled in). And you’re doing it with friends – friends with questions about why and how the Republic fell, where exactly Darth Vader falls in the Imperial hierarchy, the relative autonomy and purpose of a protocol droid, and, naturally, where the new characters of The Force Awakens fit into the sprawling scheme that is the galaxy far, far away – and who they’re related to.

It’s not the easiest question to answer. You could recite the talking points given to the actors, or quote director JJ Abrams’ cryptic but brief epilogues for Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and Kylo Ren. You could also launch into an explanation of the plot, uncovered and expounded upon over the course of the year by the spoiler community, or instead pivot to fan theory and speculation about who’s related to whom, some strong but some still very silly (Finn is NOT Lando’s son, folks).

Or you can share what I’ve been saying recently: it doesn’t matter, because they are all some version of Luke Skywalker. Read More